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Society

Anglo Saxon society was divided into a simple two-tier hierarchy, eorl and ceorl.  Eorls were the elite distinguished by birth, wealth and office; ceorls were free men, farmers. Much Anglo Saxon farming work was done by slaves, descendants of the native British population. By the end of the period, slaves had largely been replaced by dependent peasantry.

The early Anglo Saxon settlement was small, non-hierarchical, and consisted of a few timber halls and ancillary partially sunken buildings with perhaps 30-50 people.

The mid Anglo Saxon period saw the development of specialised site, in which social status and ownership were reflected in larger, more elaborate building. Livestock and crops were more closely protected enclosures within the settlements.

Buster Ancient Farm: reconstruction of Anglo Saxon hall from Chalton Down

Buster Ancient Farm: reconstruction of Anglo Saxon hall from Chalton Down

Land was used more intensively, woodland cleared and arable cultivation intensified by new farming methods. The period saw the development of large coastal fish traps and watermills, which required both labour and materials and a centralised authority to control them; most took place on royal or monastic estates.  Food and resources were carted to market towns like Winchester, or coastal trading centres such as Hamwic (Southampton) where they were processed and traded.

Counties were divided for military, administrative and legal purposes. hundreds into hundreds. In theory, a hundred covered 100 hides, each hide containing 120 acres, enough to support a family. By the time of the Norman Conquest, East Meon, although still a small settlement, was the centre of a substantial hundred, a large parish and two manors. It had a substantial hall from which the steward administered the bishop’s land holdings, and a sizeable church.